McGuinness’s ends seven month old “Fresh Start” administration (but who will succeed him?)

So Martin McGuinness, who has been off work for more than a month, is to resign as dFM from 5pm: allegedly over Mrs Arelene Foster’s failure to step aside (she lays out today in the BelTel why she believes there’s no grounds for her to do so).

McGuinness’s absence has been resolutely ignored as a factor in any of these shenanigans. But the vacuum it has created has been one the largest factors in ending the shortest lived administration in NI’s post-GFA history:

His resignation brings his term in government to a close a mere seven months after  SF and DUP’s joint Fresh Start Agreement. It seems very unlikely that Mr McGuinness will part in any future elections.

The issue with an election for the reason as presented is, as my friend Eamonn Maillie points out, is that it won’t solve the problem. Indeed, as Sam McBride says, rather than bring matters to a head, it’s now on hold:

Because, weirdly, there’s no actual disagreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the sort of procedure needed to allow things to move on. Both agree that an independent, as opposed to a public inquiry, will suffice.

The main argument between SF and the Opposition parties has been over the kind of inquiry needed.

Sinn Fein has stubbornly toed the DUP line, and pushing for a less robust and potentially manipulable independent inquiry (see the 2010 NI Water case).

It’s true that both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have stepped aside in the past, but both did so at their own political convenience (McGuinness, because he was running for president of the Republic). Mrs Foster was never going to do so under pressure.

So, not only is an election on the cards, Sinn Fein has no Northern Irish leader. Internal speculations have run as wild as Gerry Adams coming back north, but that’s probably to do with the lack of big name choices for McGuinness’s successor.

If the last few weeks are anything to go by, there are three names bubbling up in the background.

Michelle O’Neill, who’s held ministerial roles in the last three terms, Conor Murphy who’s just back from exile in Westminster, and who is by far the ablest of the three, but most recent, Mairtin O’Muilleoir Minister of Finance.

As Nicholas Whyte notes, it’s likely all four larger parties will take a hit of some description, including the (conveniently) outgoing Speaker Robin Newton, because of the overall cut to five seats per constituency.

Otherwise, it’s a restart. This is more of an attempt to spike the guns of an opposition that was just getting too close to the mark in holding the administration to account.

After just seven months, they’ve barely had time to make enough capital to make inroads, and with far fewer resources they’re likely to feel the pinch. However, nor are these the actions of a collected, joined up administration.

  • Daragh

    Even when everyone said it was the DUP’s fault for a negligent and potentially corrupt scheme that is the biggest financial scandal in the history of Stormont, I KNEW IT WAS ALL SINN FEIN’S fault eh? 😉

  • hgreen

    Not sure what Sam McBride is on about. What credibility would any investigation have if Foster remained in office?

  • Redstar

    Let’s get this over quickly Mick- you were right I was well wrong!!!!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Michelle O’Neill.

  • anon


  • Anthony O’Shea

    Its heartbreaking to see such a dedicated towering stature of Irish politics look and sound so weak. hopefully he will come through and be back in action in jiffy time.

    Conor Murphy is your man.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    SF concerns about the waste of public monies seem to have gone up in smoke. The DUP have been gifted a get out of jail free card. The pellets will continue to be consumed. No investigation, no mechanism to curtail future spending.

    SF have buckled under pressure from their supporters for purely party political reasons.

    The unionists will pull together because SF have presented them the gift of an orange-v-green election fight by muddying the water and moving away from a clear focus on RHI.

    Expect the UUP to shortly come out to castigate SF for party politicking rather than concentrate on RHI. The SDLP will big-up SF weakness in government.

    The cause célèbre of RHI has been buried amongst other alleged niggles that have been sticking in SF’s craw for years – not of which seemed to have merited a mention in the most recent SFDUP Programme for Government.

    SF have shown itself tired and out of ideas in the north. Responding to the RHI open goal gifted by the DUP has exposed the party as ineffective. Delivering any of its NI goals seems beyond it. Going to the country may not present the Shinners with a workable or beneficial road forward either.

  • NotNowJohnny

    THE DUP has had months to come up with a mechanism to curtail future public spending on the RHI scheme but have spectacularly failed to do so. What leads you to conclude they are capable of doing so and would have done so had SF not taken the action it did today?

  • Karl

    I think its a bit unseemly to speculate to a replacement for a position that isnt open. Granted, he’s not looking the best but he hasnt ruled out standing. If he fully recovers, this is premature, if he doesnt then this is just crass. Its not like the post is needed for another 10 weeks at least.

  • Ciaran Caughey

    John O’Dowd. No one else comes close.

  • Keith

    It’s utterly pathetic that our politicians cannot resolve issues without resigning and forcing elections. Unless our politicians mature, the current structures and system of government will have to change. A change in parties in the executive won’t fix it. Only a change in attitude and approach will work. It isn’t looking likely that we’re going to get better politicians, so we need a better system, one that can accommodate the idiocy of the politicians we’re stuck with.

  • Keith

    I thought the idea was that the investigation was to be independent. SF and DUP seemed to agree on that. Makes the resignation today silly in my view.

  • hgreen

    Over in GB when politicians have clearly made a balls up do they normally just try to work things out or does the politician resign?

  • Keith

    Sometimes the former, sometimes the latter. What doesn’t tend to happen is that a party chooses to crash the government and force an election. That’s my point really. We (they) need to find ways to resolve problems without creating a crisis. They’re drama junkies who don’t seem able to put in the hard effort needed to sustain a government. I really don’t see how an election helps anything. Quite the opposite.

  • Dreary Steeple

    Michelle Gildernew needs to be unleashed.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    The northern government is a coalition is it not? No one has come up with a solution, or even started to examine why the imbroglio happened in the first place!

    I don’t “conclude” anything. I do know that in life you have to keep ploughing through the crap if that’s the only alternative to giving up and sinking below the surface. You seem to imply that SF had no in-house options, that they could not have come up with anything, that the DUP monolith could not be moved. Will an election change that?

    You seem to think that an election will get to the needed answers, and the actions required in the future to curtail the spend. How so?

    I don’t. Mandates will be refreshed, they’ll be a few less MLAs but otherwise it’ll be business as usual. If SF can’t see that as the place to be then the UK government will step in with direct rule, and, Ye gods, ‘talks’. So that’s 2017… sorted.

    One thing I will predict for the future, or “conclude” if you prefer. RHI will not make nationalists any more or less nationalist, or unionists any more or less unionists.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m not sure that I ever thought (or implied) that an election will deliver the actions required to curtail future spend. I was in fact pointing out that the DUP had failed to come up with a mechanism to curtail future spend and was unlikely to do so whether SF pulled the plug today or not. You seemed to be saying that SFs actions today had prevented such a mechanism being put in place but perhaps I misinterpreted that.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Let us hope!

  • Kevin Breslin

    Any relation? 😀

  • eamoncorbett

    Keith you are assuming that the politicians in question give a damn about the country they are governing, clearly this is not so , in most countries cross party voting takes place because the issues are mostly economic , not so in NI , the economy doesn’t come into it . If the (voting) electorate re elect the same 2 as the biggest parties in the Assembly you will know for sure that NI as a political entity is ungovernable . It’s been almost a hundred years now and no workable solution has been found on the question of governance. Unionists say NI is part of the UK , Republicans say the North is part of Ireland ruled from England . Whilst these two irresistible forces are in charge and the system stays as it is there will be 2 opposing visions of the future none compatible with each other . It is the squaring of these visions that the 2 governments need to tackle, not an easy task.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    She’s an O’Neill by marriage, but as 70% plus of us up north (themuns too) appear to have the DNA markers of Niall Noígíallach I’d not preclude anything just yet.

    I’ve met her in Archaeology/History contexts such as the Tulach Óc project which DARD had substantial involvement in. Yes, I was impressed, although I’ve come away from my exchanges with Máirtín Ó Muilleoir impressed also. On hearing my dulcet Anglo-Irish enunciation, a few SF MLAs have found it difficult to even be civil with me, so I suppose if someone takes the trouble to listen to what I’m actually saying, it helps. And, seriously, I think she’d make an interesting FM………